With the Washington Capitals having played 20 games in the 2019-2020 season, it’s time For our annual quarterly assessment of the team. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks at the first quarter of the Capitals’ season (see last season’s first quarter review here). [Note: the recap is being done after 20 games this season since Games 21 and 22 are back to back.]
After 20 games, the Caps have a 14-2-4 record with 32 points, are in first place in Metropolitan Division, first place in the Eastern Conference and have the best record overall in the NHL.
Here are comparisons to the five previous seasons after 20 games. As a rule, the Caps would be better in subsequent quarters during the regular season, finishing second in their division in 2014-15 and first in each of the four subsequent seasons, winning the Presidents Trophy during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons and winning the Stanley Cup in 2017-18.
|2017-18||10||9||2||21||3rd||7th||12th||NoVa Caps Recap after 21 games.|
|2018-19||10||7||3||23||3rd||8th||15th||NoVa Caps Recap after 21 games.|
Inside the Numbers
Of the Caps’ 13 wins, nine were won in regulation, with two overtime wins that did not go to a shootout and one shootout win. They have lost four games in overtime, with one of those four overtime losses coming in a shootout.
To break down totals by month, the Caps were 9-2-3 in October and 5-0-1 during November so far. They have gone 5-1-3 at home and 9-1-1 on the road. One note about their home record, they lost their first three games at home, two in Overtime and one in regulation. They have rebounded on home since then.
The Capitals have scored 77 goals, which is 21 more than the NHL average of 55 goals, and have given up 59 goals, which is four goals worse than the league average. Their Goal Differential is +12, as they have given up 12 less goals than they have scored.
The “Goals For” and “Goals Against” totals in the NHL.COM standings board are listed as 79 and 60, given that teams are credited with an extra “Goal For” for shootout wins and debited with an extra “Goal Against” for shootout losses. In the case of the Caps, they won two shootouts and lost another shootout so their “Goals For” and “Goals Against” totals reflect this.
- Alex Ovechkin – 13
- J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana – 9
- Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, Tom Wilson — 8
- John Carlson — 22
- Nicklas Backstrom – 11
- Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin – 10
- John Carlson – 30 (eight goals; 22 assists)
- Alex Ovechkin – 23 (13 goals,10 assists)
- Evgeny Kuznetsov – 18 (eight goals; 10 assists)
- Jakub Vrana – 17 (nine goals, eight assists)
General Analysis of Offense
So far, the Caps, as a team, have scored 77 goals, which, as mentioned above, is 21 more than the league average of 55. Ovechkin leads the team in goals with 13, which is nearly one sixth of the team’s output. Five other players have at least eight goals, which include Oshie and Vrana with nine and Kuznetsov, Carlson, and Wilson with eight. So, that is six different players with at least eight goals, including one defenseman.
The offense could be described as top-heavy given that six players, Ovechkin, Oshie, Kuznetsov, Vrana, Carlson, and Wilson, have scored a disproportionate share of the team’s goals, with those six players scoring 71 % of the team’s goals. Outside of those six players, the next highest goal totals on the team are Lars Eller with 5 goals and Nicklas Backstrom with 4 goals.
15 different players have scored goals for the Caps. Forwards with no goals so far are: Carl Hagelin, Travis Boyd (who has returned to the Hershey Bears), and Richard Panik.
John Carlson has earned more assists than anyone else on the Capitals. He has 22 assists. Next highest are Backstrom with 11 assists and Ovechkin and Kuznetsov who each have 10. Three other players are tied with 8 assists.
The Caps have scored an average of 3.85 goals per game, which is the first in the league. They have given up an average of 2.95 goals per game, which is the 16th in the NHL; i.e. in the middle.
So far this season, the Caps have scored more than four goals on eight different occasions, winning all of them except one. This does not include a game where they scored four goals but won in a shootout. They scored 5 goals in three consecutive games, winning all three. They have given up six goals twice, losing both times. They gave up 5 goals in one other game and won that game in a shootout. In their five losses (2 regulation and 3 in Overtime or a shootout), they had the lead during the third period in three of them.
The Caps currently rank 16th in the league in shots per game with 31.4 and have given up an average of 31.3 shots, which ranks as 16th. While the average value of shots per game is 32.2, there are some extremely high values around the league which have skewed the average high. The Caps shot percentage is 10.9% which is second in the league, only to the Nashville Predators. They have won 49.9% of their faceoffs, which ranks 14th in the league.
In the Advanced Statistics department, the Caps PDO (adding Shot Percentage and Save Percentage) is 101.9 which is tied for third in the league with the Montreal Canadiens.
The Caps have attempted 872 shots, and yielded 866 shots for a +6 differential, good enough for 16th in the league. Their Corsi Percentage is 50.3% while their Fenwick Percentage is 51.3%.
The Capitals’ starting goaltender, Braden Holtby, has played in 14 games and had 383 saves on 424 shots for a save percentage of .903 in the first quarter, which is below his career save percentage of .918. He has an 9-1-3 record for the year.
Backup netminder Ilya Samsonov has played in seven games, starting six and has a 5-1-1 record for the year, with a save percentage of .915. He has had no prior NHL experience before this season. The team’s overall save percentage is .910 which is average.
For the season, the Capitals have scored 16 power play goals on 70 power play opportunities, for a conversion rate of 22.9%, which currently ranks ninth in the league. The Caps’ power play has been in a scoring drought for much of November, as they have converted just 3 powerplays in 19 opportunities. For October, the conversion percentage was 25.4%.
The Caps’ Penalty Kill percentage is 84.9%, as they killed 62 penalties in 73 opportunities, which ranks 8th out of 31 teams. They give the other team an average of 3.65 power plays a game and give up an average of .55 goals per game. The Caps have scored three shorthanded goals and given up one shorthanded goal this year.
- Alex Ovechkin played in his 1100th NHL game against the Calgary Flames at home on 11/03/2019, becoming the first player from the 2004 NHL Draft class and the fifth Russian player to reach the mark.
- Alex Ovechkin scored his 247th power play goal on the road against the Nashville Predators on 10/10/2019, passing Luc Robitaille for fourth place on the All-Time list.
- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 1219th point in his NHL career against the New York Rangers on 10/18/2019 at home, passing Jean Beliveau for 42nd on the All Time List
- Alex Ovechkin scored his 668th and 669th goals of his career on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs on 10/30/2019. This allowed him to pass Luc Robitaille for 12th place overall. In the process, he also passed Luc Robitaille for first place among players listed as left wing.
- John Carlson earned his 416th NHL point on 10/16/2019 at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs, passing Sergei Gonchar for fourth place on the Caps All Time list for points by a defenseman.
- John Carlson recorded his 22nd point for the month of October on 10/29/2019, matching the Capitals’ team record for number of points scored by a defenseman, tying the record set by Sergei Gonchar back in January 2000. In the process, he passed Brian Leetch (1990: 5g, 16a, 21 points in 14 games) and Paul Coffey (1988: 3g, 18a, 21 points in 11 games) for the second-most points by a defenseman in the month of October in NHL history.
- John Carlson earned his 427th, 428th, and 429th points on 11/07/2019, with a goal and two assists, on the road against the Florida Panthers which allowed him to pass Kevin Hatcher (426) for the third most points recorded by a Caps defenseman and tie Scott Stevens (429) for second place for points recorded by a Caps defenseman.
- John Carlson earned his 430nd and 431rd career points on 11/09/2019 at home against the Las Vegas Golden Knights to take over sole possession of second place among Caps defenseman. It broke a tie with Scott Stevens (429). His 431st point also allowed him to tie Dennis Maruk for tenth place in career points for the Capitals’ franchise.
- John Carlson earned his 432nd career point on 11/11/2019 against the Arizona Coyotes which allowed him to pass Dennis Maruk for tenth place in career points for the Capitals franchise.
- John Carlson earned his 329th assist on the road against the Edmonton Oilers and allowed him to tie Mike Ridley for tenth place in career assists
- John Carlson earned his 330th and 331st career assist on 11/07/2019 on the road against the Florida Panthers which allowed him to pass Mike Ridley (329) for tenth place and allowed him to tie Scott Stevens (331) for ninth place in career assists for the Capitals franchise
- John Carlson earned his 332nd and 333rd career assists on 11/09/2019 against the Vegas Golden Knights, allowing him to pass allowed him to tie Scott Stevens (331) for ninth place in career assists for the Capitals franchise
- Nicklas Backstrom records his 885th career point on 10/29/2019 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road, tying Peter Forsberg for seventh place for number of career points by a Swedish player. Backstrom recorded his 886th NHL point on November 7 against the Florida Panthers on the road to take over sole possession of seventh place, passing Forsberg.
- Nicklas Backstrom scored his 233rd career goal on 10/16/2019 at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs, passing Frederick Modin for 18th in goals scored by a Swede. He tied Modin for 18th place on 10/8/2019 at home against the Dallas Stars.
- Nicklas Backstrom earned his 648th assist on 10/22/2019 against the Calgary Flames on the road, passing Daniel Sedin for fifth place on the All Time List of assists by a Swedish player. Her earned his 250th assist on 10/29/2019 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He achieved in 249th assist in his 906th game, making him the fastest Swede to achieve that milestone.
- Lars Eller played in his 700th NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres at home on 11/01/2019 against the Buffalo Sabres. He was only the second Danish born player to achieve that landmark.
- Nic Dowd played in his 200th career NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at home on 10/14/2019.
Capitals Milestones within Reach
- Braden Holtby – One shutout shy of passing Olaf Kolzig for first place on the Caps All Time List for shutouts. Holtby and Kolzig tied with 35 career shutouts.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov – four assists shy of reaching the 250 assist milestone which would allow him to pass Dennis Maruk, Kelly Miller, and Mike Green for assists by Caps players. He is currently tied with Kelly Miller in assists.
Injuries and Illness
- Michal Kempny – Was out October 2-16 (10 games)
- Nic Dowd – Was out since November 1 and returned on November 11 (4 games)
- Richard Panik – Was out since October 18 and returned November 13 (11 games)
- Carl Hagelin – Has been out since November 9
The Road Ahead
The Caps play a back-to-back set of games, first against the Montreal Canadiens at home on November 15 and then against the Boston Bruins on the road on November 16. After that, they play Anaheim at home on November 18 then on the road to play the New York Rangers on November 20.
The Caps have earned a 14-2-4 record with 32 points, which is a better start than the team generated over the last five years. It is a shade better than their start of 2015-16, a year where they ultimately won the Presidents Trophy. However, numerous examples of fast starting teams who ultimately failed can be found in NHL history. The 14-2-4 record includes just nine wins in regulation. If games still ended in ties, the Caps record would be 9-2-9. The Islanders would be 10-3-4.
This quarter was a march towards milestones for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and John Carlson who kept moving up the NHL career leaderboards in many statistical categories.
There were numerous personnel changes prior this season, which mostly pertained to the defense, the bottom six forwards, and backup goaltending. On defense, Matt Niskanen was traded for Radko Gudas, with the defense pairings shuffled, as a result. Among bottom six personnel, Andre Burakovsky was traded while Brett Connolly and Devante Smith-Pelly departed in free agency. The Caps signed Garrett Hathaway, Richard Panik, and Brendan Leipsic in free agency to replace the departed forwards. Rookie Ilya Samsonov, who is regarded as a great prospect, is currently the backup to Braden Holtby, while Phoenix Copley, last year’s backup, is back with the Hershey Bears.
The power play is running behind last year’s edition, given that the team has had a dry spell for November in converting. The Penalty Kill is doing better this year, as in better than average, which is a great improvement over last season’s edition who were near the bottom.
Last year, the long early season suspension to Tom Wilson, had greatly disrupted the lines. This year, the top six forward corps have been scoring goals at a good clip even though the bulk of the offense for the team has been provided by them and defenseman John Carlson.
If grades could be assigned to the team, the forwards would earn an A. The defense and goaltending would earn a C, assuming that C is an average grade. With goals against near the middle and goalie save percentage also near the middle, C would be the grade in those departments. The team’s overall grade would be an A.
Statistics obtained from NHL.com, Hockey Reference, Puck Base, and Quanthockey.
By Diane Doyle